Art and Time have always seemed to have a long-term relationship. Great art takes time to create, to properly evaluate, and most art is created using materials (marble, canvas/paint, metal) that they hope will stand the test of time. This long-term relationship is important because most art is created for spectators, and a sense of permanence is necessary so that it can be properly digested. Rivers and Tides flips this relationship on its head by introducing us to Andy Goldsworthy, a natural sculptor and artist. Goldsworthy is notable because he only works with material he finds in nature (ice, rocks, roots, leaves, etc.) and he allows his works to interact with their surroundings.
What that means in a nutshell is that Goldsworthy goes out into nature and builds various works of art and then allows nature to have their way with them. No matter the size, the detail of the piece, or the time it took to make, Goldsworthy allows his works to be consumed by the environment he pulled them from. This may be hard to grasp without seeing his work firsthand, but let me try to elaborate using a picture or two. Take a look at this piece of art for example:
Goldsworthy created this by taking various size chunks of icicles and putting them together using only the cold air and the heat from his hands. He did this over the course of one night, and after finishing it he photographed it and let nature run its course. The sculpture melted very quickly after the sun rose, and if not for the documentary crew filming, no other human soul would’ve had hard evidence that it had ever existed. Goldsworthy’s method fascinates me because he truly has no interest in his art as a commercial product. He truly uses only what nature provides to him, and he accepts that often times his projects fail: beautiful webs of sticks get blown apart by wind, massive rock formations fall apart as the earth shifts, the slightest incorrect touch brings down a complicated composition of leaves. His work’s relationship with time produces actual stakes that make every completed work seem more impressive and breathtaking than the last, especially since the beauty is always fleeting.
However fleeting it is, Goldsworthy work’s are truly beautiful. If anything Rivers and Tides is a successful documentary because of the amazing works of natural art it displays, like this for example.
Goldsworthy created this using various color leaves, with a weird type of root making the black spot in the center. There were no paint or artificial substances used, even though in picture form the center spot is so black it looks fake. This particular work does not even get very much mention in the documentary and there are eight to ten more that we see from start to completion that look almost too good to actually exist.
Rivers and Tides isn’t completely perfect though, and despite its interesting concept and beautiful imagery, it sometimes feels hollow. Goldsworthy is a very intriguing main character and his methods are unique to say the least, but we never really learn too much about him. He gives us a glimpse into his life, his influences, and how he works, but overall we never truly understand why he has devoted his life to such an interesting pursuit. That does not make the documentary any less fun to watch, but when I was done I could remember almost everything he made, but I did not really remember anything notable about the person making them. Still in terms of visually interesting and thought provoking documentaries you could do a lot worse than Rivers and Tides. Even if you have no interest in art, it still has plenty to offer.
Up Next: My look at Billy Wilder continues with an analysis of his harsh look at alcoholism, The Lost Weekend.